Nissan hybrid hauls with comfort, economy

| Friday, May 2, 2014, 8:57 p.m.

Take one of the best family-size crossover utility vehicles on the market, and add a gasoline-electric hybrid drive system to it, and you'll have the best of both worlds: versatility and efficiency.

That's the theory behind the 2014 Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid, a great people hauler that offers decent fuel economy: up to 26 mpg combined city/highway. That's for a vehicle that can carry seven adults in comfort, with no compromises.

Prices begin at $35,300 for the entry-level SV front-wheel-drive version.

It's the first in a line of hybrid models. Hybrid versions of the redesigned Rogue compact crossover are planned, as well as for the redesigned 2015 Murano midsize crossover and the Altima sedan, which plays in the same class as the Accord, Camry, Fusion, Sonata and Optima hybrids.

The Pathfinder got a complete redesign last year that turned it into a roomy, full-size crossover. It took another big leap this year with the addition of the hybrid version.

Under the hood of the hybrid is a supercharged 2.5-liter gasoline engine coupled with a 15-kilowatt electric motor, which gets its power from a compact lithium-ion battery.

They provide nearly the same power as the gasoline-only Pathfinder's 3.5-liter V-6. The hybrid has a total of 250 horsepower and 243 pound-feet of torque, compared with 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque for the 3.5-liter.

The power of the hybrid feels similar to that of the gasoline model, although there seemed to be more pep on take-off with the hybrid. That's because the electric motor kicks in with all of its torque right away.

At highway speeds, the hybrid has plenty of power left in reserve for passing, thanks to the boost provided by the electric motor.

A technology package adds a 13-speaker Bose premium audio system with navigation, voice recognition, XM NavTraffic and NavWeather capability, Zagat Survey restaurant guide, Bluetooth streaming audio and an 8-inch color touch screen.

The newest Pathfinder has a unibody-style design, rather than the traditional body-on-frame arrangement of the model it replaced. It's a top competitor in its class, which includes such stalwarts as the Highlander and Honda Pilot, thanks to its best-in-class passenger space, fuel economy and standard towing capacity.

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